It’s not always possible if you work in the city to spend much time in nature during your week, but if you don’t make it out to a nature reserve or large urban park even just going out for a stroll along the canal or river can be so beneficial to your health, mood, and even a key to unlocking creativity.
Life in modern towns and cities is associated with stress, lack of physical activity and unnatural environmental hazards such as pollution. That’s why green space plays such an important part of life today, where once parks and gardens were important for play now they are important for our health, and that of the planet too. These urban green spaces can promote good mental and physical health, and even if sitting in nature is all you do that’s still beneficial to your stress levels, allowing you to relax, offering opportunities for social interaction, and providing a space with less exposure to pollution and noise. Plus if you have access to a waterway such as a lake or a river, these places help to moderate the local climate and tend to be cooler, making them perfect for the warmer months when the city can feel stifling.
Heading out to your local green space is a great leveller, they tend to be very accessible, and all you need are some comfy shoes to take part so there’s no economic barrier - this also means that places like parks are where many communities and cultures can come together.
Whilst the green space itself is important, getting yourself to those spaces is too - walkers have lower rates of depression, and research shows that the less we move the less open and agreeable our personalities become over time. Researchers at Stanford found that walking boosts creative inspiration, with creative output increasing on average by 60 per cent whilst walking. If you’re suffering from a mental block, having a tricky time with a project, or just need some inspiration then forget about filling up on more coffee - take a walk around the block instead.
Walking makes us healthier, happier and smarter, and in that respect, urban landscapes are just as good for us as a wander through the countryside is. Plus, walking is the best way to get to know a place and you only have to look to writers such as Iain Sinclair, Will Self, Lauren Elkin, and Rebecca Solnit to see an explosion of urban walkers who explore their home towns by foot and in doing so reveal its many hidden layers. With our cities ever-expanding, it’s vital that we learn how to connect with them like this, and “understanding cities matters because they’re the place where many of our problems will ultimately be solved.”
Over the start of 2020, we’ll be sharing easy walks and accessible green spaces across our regions that you can discover on your lunch hour.
On a grander scale, we’re all too aware of the need for sustainable development strategies for cities and the significant health benefits they bring about. It’s important to build, plan and redevelop cities with these strategies in mind, factors such as energy-efficient transport, healthy urban planning, healthy urban diets (such as urban or vertical farms), healthy, energy-efficient housing, and improved urban waste management. We all need to be responsible for our future cities, and the simplest way to do that right now is, first of all, to connect with nature because when we reconnect with the natural world and feel part of that ecosystem we care about it and we care about ourselves.
If you’re looking for tips on how to really immerse yourself in your local green spaces then the Wildlife Trust have some great tips, from recording bird song on your phone to being mindful whilst in nature. Alternatively, you can find some local group activities to join in with, groups like Cracking Good Food in Manchester run sustainable urban foraging workshops where you can find herbs and mushrooms right on your doorstep and learn how best to cook with them.